Muslim Ummah:
Easy game?

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Contributing Editor Dr SHIREEN M MAZARI talks about the conflicts facing the MUSLIM UMMAH

It is not only the Kashmiris who are struggling against all odds - both on the ground and in politico-diplomatic terms. Wherever you see a Muslim people struggling for their right to be free as a people, you see the double-speak and antagonism of the rest of the world towards them. To make matters worse, the Muslim states are no better, caught upon as they are in their own insecurities, unrepresentative political systems and external economic dependencies. Four different cases will illustrate this point only too clearly.

First, there is the case of the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus, which celebrates its 16th anniversary this 15th of November. But for the intervention of Turkey, the Greek Cypriots would have successfully carried out a genocide of the Turkish Cypriot community. A brief history of the troubled island of Cyprus will explain the injustice that has been meted out to the Turkish Cypriots not only by the West but also by the rest of the Muslim world. While Cyprus has always been inhabited by two distinct communities, the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots, it was under Turkish rule for over 300 years, before the British leased it in 1878 under the Berlin Agreement. After the First World War - which should more appropriately be termed the Great European War - Britain gained complete sovereignty over the Island under the Lausanne Treaty of 1923. In 1960, with the British seeking to withdraw from their colonies, a bi-communal state was founded under international treaties signed by Britain, Greece and Turkey, as well as the leaders of both the ethnic Cypriot communities. It was Greek Cypriot designs to undo this bi-communal nature of the state of Cyprus - under the notion of Enosis (union with Greece) - spearheaded by the late Archbishop Makarios that began the clash in Cyprus. The Greek community used violence to try and terrorise the Turkish community which fled to 'safe enclaves' and in 1974 Greece staged a coup in Cyprus with Britain watching and ignoring its treaty obligations to intervene. Luckily, Turkey did intervene and put paid to Greek designs. With the Greeks in no mood to come to any just settlement of the issue, the TRNC was declared and it is now in its 16th year. The sorrowful part is that despite the UN having discovered mass graves where Turkish Cypriots were dumped after being massacred by the Greeks, the world community is unwilling to either acknowledge the TRNC or compel the Greek Cypriots to resolve the issue according to the original bi-communal framework.

Worse still, the EU is seeking to give further legitimacy to the hijacking of Cyprus by the Greek Cypriots by allowing Greek Cyprus to become a member of the EU. And the Commonwealth also continues to recognise the Greek Cypriots as the legitimate government of Cyprus as a whole. Nor is the record of the Muslim world much better on this front. No state except for Turkey recognises the TRNC, though Pakistan comes closest to de facto recognition. Bangladesh had recognised it but later withdrew this recognition under US pressure. ZA Bhutto was also in the process of recognising the TRNC when dictator Zia's coup happened, and the US made inroads into Pakistan's external policies all over again. The present time seems an ideal time for Pakistan to recognise the TRNC, especially since the Commonwealth has also suspended our membership. Of course, in many ways the TRNC's problems are over since now there is no bloodshed or intercommunal violence on the Island. The Turkish Cypriots do not fear for their lives any longer and despite being diplomatically isolated, the TRNC has foreign investment, foreign tourists and foreign students. Nothing reveals the hypocrisy of the present international system than the manner in which states deal with the TRNC. But the question is: Why should this be so and why has the international community allowed the Greeks to get away with murder - literally? And is it not time for the Muslim World to shed its mantle of cowardly hypocrisy? If the collectivity of the Muslim World recognised the TRNC, it would at the very least counter the EU's unholy embrace of the Greek Cypriots and give some leverage to the TRNC in dealing with the Greek Cypriots and the West.

Interestingly enough, the second and third cases - of Bosnia and Kosovo - show that the very reasons for which Turkey was condemned when it intervened in Cyprus are the ones being used to justify international interventions in these cases. But what one should take note of is the timing and manner of the interventions. Take the case of Bosnia: Only when the Bosnians had exhausted themselves and were willing to concede territory away, did the West intervene and halt the Serbian murderous onslaught. In other words, while the West could not really prevent Bosnian nationalism. They did ensure that the final shape of the Bosnian state would be a weak and truncated one. In other words, when the West had no choice but to accept a Muslim state in their midst, they ensured that it would be a truncated one. Again, the Muslim World showed itself unwilling to assert itself as a collectivity. Instead, it allowed a Muslim people to be murdered, Muslim women to be abused at the hands of the Serbs and it did nothing. While individual states like Pakistan and Iran tried to rise in defence of the Bosnian Muslims, the sham of the notion of the Muslim Ummah was revealed once again during the Bosnian crisis.

As for Kosovo, when the US under NATO cover started its air campaign against the Serbian government, it did what Turkey had done in Cyprus in 1974 - prevented a genocide of a people. As Turkey's intervention had the legal backing of the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee so the US sought legal cover under the UN Charter and NATO's treaty provisions. But the US also ensured that the Kosovars would be weakened enough not to demand their own state or be able to fight for it. This is why it chose not to give ground support to its air campaign. The result was that the ethnic cleansing of the Kosovars was made more intense with the air attacks unable to prevent this. The mass graves and abused women are testimony to this barbarism on the part of the Serbs and now one is seeing efforts to rehabilitate Serbs amongst the returning Kosovars. After all, Muslim Kosovars cannot be allowed the assertion of their religious identity within the notion of statehood.

Again, the Muslim World watched seemingly helpless as the Kosovar tragedy unfolded. This impotency of the Islamic Ummah needs to be dealt with urgently if there is going to be any meaningful notion of a Muslim World in the next millennium.

Finally, there is the case of Chechnya where the Russians are conducting a genocide of the Chechen population. And the world has allowed it to happen to a degree where now the sheer ruthlessness of the Russian military has unnerved the West. But all it has done so far is make a few mild noises of protest even as the human misery and massive scale of the refugee problem has become apparent, thanks to the international media. But the Russians are exploiting the Western fears of 'Islamic fundamentalism' to the brink. One wonders how long the UN and the West will maintain its tolerance of this latest Russian murderous assault on a whole people. The point is that even the Western verbal protests have only begun coming now - when the Chechens have already suffered and been weakened irretrievably. If a 'humanitarian' intervention does come eventually from the West - either under the UN cover or NATO - it will come when the Chechens will be in no position to assert their political will. And again the Muslim states are shamefully silent. Not even words of protest have emanated from the OIC - as if the Chechens were simply dispensable.

In contrast to this, the swift response to Indonesian brutalities in East Timor provide a sharp reminder of what the international community can do when its Muslims inflicting sufferings on Christians. The East Timorese struggle for self-determination was given the ultimate Western recognition when the leaders of the independence movement were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize! Whether the West likes to admit it or not, the issues of Kashmir and East Timor bear striking similarities, especially in the context of the UN, but no Western government has seen fit to give any kudos to the leaders of the Kashmiri struggle for self-determination. Why? Does religion make all the difference? And look at the manner of the international intervention: The Australian forces are on the military offensive and there is no limitation on the fire power or the military means at their disposal. This is not to justify Indonesian policy on East Timor but to simply point out the refreshing total commitment the international community has undertaken in East Timor and rapidly operationalised.

The Muslim World should take note of this. But where is the Muslim World? Instead of using the East Timor example as a means of pushing for a referendum on Kashmir, the OIC seems hamstrung - unable to get beyond its fictional interests. So the Kashmiris continue to struggle against heavy odds while their women continue to suffer physical and mental abuse at the hands of the Indian occupation soldiers. As for the Human Rights activists from Muslim states who rush to conduct investigations all over the world from Latin America to East Timor, it is time they gave a thought for fellow Muslims being abused by occupation forces who use rape as a deliberate weapon of war. Kashmir may not be fashionable just as the TRNC is not fashionable in Western human rights' frameworks and donor states and agencies priorities, but they are very real issues where a whole people are being penalised because they are Muslims.

And this really is the crux of it all: Muslims will be penalised and rejected by the West. Populist Islam threatens the West because it offers a direct challenge to Western creeds and intellectual presumptions. We may be 'good' or 'bad' Muslims in each other's eyes, but for the rest of the World being Muslim is enough - it identifies you and defines your political and social ethos, notwithstanding regional cultural diversities. When the non-Muslim sees that tide of humanity in Mecca, kneeling in supplication as one, he cannot see the diversities that prevail. Is it not a pity that we can only see the differences within each other even as we call ourselves the Muslim Ummah?

The irony of it all is that there are plenty of opportunities for the Muslim states to evolve cooperative strategies with each other. For instance, take the Arab World. Its lack of a will to stay together has meant the fragmentation of the commitment to the Palestinian cause. The Zionists have been successful in undermining the Muslim opposition to its policies, slice by slice. The result is that apart from Syria, most of the Arab World is now acquiescing to the reality of an expansionist Israeli state. The so-called 'Land For Peace' principle has been diluted to the point of irrelevance with the Israelis using the same tactics the Indians use with Pakistan: Negotiate and then backtrack. Now they are trying the same ploy with Syria as they seek a renewal of a dialogue with it. So far the Syrians are steadfast in their determination to first get Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights before agreeing to security concerns of the Israelis, dealing with the water issue and normalisation of relations.

This is the time for the other Muslim states to support Syria and this is the time for Syria to realise that it needs to develop a more active cooperative linkage with countries like Pakistan. After all, just as the Golan Heights and Israel are central to Syrian security perceptions and policies, Kashmir and India are central to Pakistan. With Israel now evolving a close strategic relationship with India, there is a necessity for Syria and Pakistan to move closer on this front since the regional security parameters of the Middle East and South Asia will gradually become less clearly distinguishable.

Whichever way one looks at the issue, unless the Muslim World is prepared to give precedence to common interests over their conflicts with each other, the Muslims of the world will continue to be easy prey to exploitation and suffering. Whether we want to or not, we are regarded as a collectivity - so it is time to make that collectivity function positively.